Cure for blindness to become reality soon?

By Liji Varghese | Updated: Dec 18, 2013, 23:58 PM IST
Pic Courtesy:

Zee Media Bureau/Liji Varghese

New Delhi: British scientists claim to have successfully used an inkjet printer to print new cells from the eye which could be a potential cure for human blindness in near future.

Researchers from Cambridge University used inkjet printing technology to print two types of cells from rat retinas - ganglion cells and glial cells – and see if they survived.

The cells remained healthy after being "printed," retaining their ability to survive and grow in culture.

Co-authors of the study Prof Keith Martin and Dr Barbara Lorber, from the John van Geest Centre for Brain Repair at the University of Cambridge, said that the breakthrough could lead to the production of artificial tissue grafts made from different cells found in the human retina and may help treat people suffering from degenerative eye diseases.

"The loss of nerve cells in the retina is a feature of many blinding eye diseases," they said in a press release. The retina is an exquisitely organised structure, where the precise arrangement of cells in relation to one another is critical for effective visual function," they added.

In the study conducted on adult rats, the researchers used a piezoelectric inkjet printer head which ejected glia cells and retinal ganglion cells from adult lab rats through a single nozzle less than one millimetre (0.04 of an inch) across. They also used high speed video technology to record the printing process with high resolution and optimised their procedures accordingly.

Although the results are preliminary and more tests are needed before human trials can begin, the aim is to develop this technology for use in retinal repair in the future, the researchers said.

The next attempt will be to attempt to print other types of retinal cells, including the light-sensitive photoreceptors - rods and cones.

Blindness is commonly caused by degeneration of nerve cells in the eye and about 37 million people across the globe suffer from blindness.  India alone has 15 million people suffering from degenerative eye diseases out of which 75% of cases are of avoidable blindness.

The breakthrough has been detailed in a paper published on Wednesday in IOP Publishing’s journal Biofabrication.